Ayelet Shaked and the United Right

(Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

What Happened?

Three right-wing Israeli political parties agreed to run together on a joint list under the leadership of former justice minister Ayelet Shaked. In Israel’s April 2019 elections, Shaked ran as second on the list of the New Right, a party she had created with Naftali Bennett. But the New Right did not receive enough votes to cross the electoral threshold to obtain seats in the Knesset (a party is required to receive a minimum of 3.25% of the votes). Now, after that disappointment, Shaked is the number one on the joint list for the “United Right,” comprised of the New Right, Bayit Yehudi, and National Union parties.

Why Does This Matter?

Who is Ayelet Shaked? 43-year-old Ayelet Shaked grew up in Tel Aviv, where she still lives. She holds degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and worked in hi-tech before her foray into politics in 2006. She was elected to Knesset with the Bayit Yehudi party in 2013 as the only secular woman on the party’s ticket. Shaked was elected justice minister in 2015, during which time she worked on reducing the court system load, easing regulations, drafting social laws, establishing the Arbel Committee to review the limits between free speech and incitement, combating BDS organizations, dealing with illegal immigrants in Israel, meting out harsher punishments for terrorists, and more. She has been called Bayit Yehudi’s “breakout star,” a “secular politician highly popular with Orthodox Jews” who is “poised to be the most successful female Israeli politician since Golda Meir,” and “Netanyahu’s heiress.” For the upcoming election, the New Right is expected to be more popular under Shaked and become the third-largest party after Likud and Blue and White. Like any politician, Shaked has her critics (see below) – but the September elections will show the level of support the Israeli public bestows on her. 

Who are the Israeli women in politics? Haaretz correspondent Allison Kaplan Sommer, in an article titled “How Ayelet Shaked Became the Most Powerful Woman in Israeli Politics,” describes the women in politics as Israel heads to elections next month (it’s a long quote, but bear with us): 

“Until news of the far-right alliance broke, the political landscape heading into the do-over election was looking particularly dismal for women: Meretz leader Tamar Zandbergwas unseated by Nitzan HorowitzStav Shaffir lost her leadership bid for the Labor Party and a disenchanted Shelly Yacimovich, one of the party’s former leaders, announced her decision to quit political life; and [Tzippi] Livni, after her Hatnuah party was unceremoniously dumped by the Zionist Union in humiliating fashion, wasn’t invited to join the centrist Kahol Lavan headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. And while Orli Levi-Abekasis heads her own centrist party, Gesher, she is playing second fiddle to Labor Party leader Amir Peretz on their alliance’s recently agreed slate.” 

She notes that all of these women represent leftist parties, while Shaked is the only significant female player on the right, and only female party leader at all.

What does this mean for Netanyahu? In the April 2019 election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pushed hard for the smaller right-wing parties to run together in order to strengthen their vote and add to his hopeful coalition. But with Shaked at the helm, a Times of Israel analysis claims, “this is not the merger Netanyahu had hoped for.” Shaked may very well take away votes from Likud and, rather than unite the fringes of the right-wing, has “brought together the mainstream factions on the right, all but guaranteeing their own political survival, but not necessarily Netanyahu’s.” 

Diversity of Perspectives within Israel

On the one hand… As mentioned above, the New Right party is expected to be more successful under Shaked given her popularity. Before Shaked became the leader of this joint list, a group of religious Zionist women called for this to happen under the slogan “Let Ayelet Win.” One of the group’s leaders, Ruth Ben-Haim, stated, “Ayelet Shaked is a powerful woman with a political ability which is unparalleled in the right-wing camp to the right of the Likud.” She wears her loyalty to Israel and the Jewish people “proudly, without apology.”

Even more than that… Maariv named Shaked “Woman of the Week,” calling her “warm” and a “people person.” An opinion piece in Yediot Achronot attributes her success to quite a different set of characteristics: determination, emotional detachment and being a “bulldozer,” combined with the contrast of her gentle and attractive exterior. 

You gotta give props… Israel Policy Forum Policy Director Michael Koplow called Shaked an “excellent politician” who could serve as prime minister at the end of the “Bibi era” (perhaps not next, but soon afterward). He pointed out that while joining Likud would probably advance Shaked’s political career more than staying with the New Right, at the moment leading Likud members such as Yuli EdelsteinGidon Sa’ar, and Yisrael Katzwant to keep her away from the party because they recognize her popularity and wish to prevent her from succeeding Netanyahu and rather keep the position for themselves (plus, Sara Netanyahu has a history of bad blood with Shaked and wants to keep her out of Likud).

On the other hand… A specific group objects to Shaked’s party leadership – and not because of her politics. A few weeks back, a group of prominent religious Zionist rabbis signed a petition against appointing Shaked as the leader of the United Right because she is secular, stating that “a God-fearing Jew who observes Torah and mitzvot must be at the head of the national religious party.” One of the signatories, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, took things a step further by stating that the problem is not just that Shaked is secular, but that she is a woman: “The complicated vortex of politics is not the arena for the role of women,” he explained. (See discussion question #3 for Shaked’s response.)

On the other hand, from a different angle… Prior to the April 2019 election, the New Right put out a campaign ad responding to Shaked’s critics, who criticized her restructure of the Israeli judicial system. In it, Shaked mocks the critics who called her tactics “fascist.” Anschel Pfeffer, of Haaretz, apparently did not appreciate this, tweeting that Shaked was “employ[ing] gaslighting humor to troll the leftists and try and reestablish some street cred for Naftali and Ayelet.”

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